Five Facts from The Train to Crystal City


1. During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt interned 31,275 enemy aliens: 10,905 Germans, 16,849 Japanese, 3,278 Italians, 52 Hungarians, 5 Bulgarians, 25 Romanians, and 161 “others.” These people were not only immigrants living in the U.S., but also residents of other countries. In 1941, the State Department reached secret agreements with Latin American governments to deport to the U.S. Axis nationals living in Central and South America.

2. The internment camp in Crystal City, TX was the only place where families could reunite after fathers—and sometimes mothers—were arrested. Most families were sent to Crystal City only after agreeing to repatriate. The U.S. government used them in prisoner exchange programs with Japan and Germany.

3. The camp comprised almost 300 acres and was monitored by the Red Cross. The camp had food stores, a bakery, churches, accredited schools, a hospital, several restaurants, and even a swimming pool (built by internees).

4. As late as September 1947, two years after the end of the war, Japanese-Americans were held in Crystal City with the intent to deport them to Japan.

5. After numerous petitions and lawsuits, Japanese internees received an apology and $20,000 in reparations from the U.S. government. German internees received neither. It was argued that the Japanese were wrongfully interned because of their race, but that Germans were interned because they were a security risk.

Jan Jarboe Russell has written an excellent account of the Crystal City internment camp and the families who found themselves caught in the fear and hysteria that gripped the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor. If you want to find out how it was possible that German immigrants, with four American-born children, would first spend several years in Crystal City and then be sent into war-torn Germany (where the father was promptly arrested for being an American spy), or how Japanese immigrants, also with American-born children, could be under the impression that Japan was winning the war when they boarded a ship to repatriate to Japan (where the teenage daughter got a job working for the American military to keep her family from starving), or how a German-born Jew with a fake passport from Ecuador who was arrested in the Netherlands and survived the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen finally found herself state-less in Algiers, then read this book. The explanations are interesting and sometimes mind-boggling, and I can guarantee that you will learn something new as well.

(Did you know that the 442nd combat team, made up entirely of second-generation Japanese-Americans, was the most-decorated unit during World War II?)

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.



    • I know this isn’t exactly the type of book you read, but I found it really interesting, especially since I’m a German immigrant. I also still had your review of Obasan in the back of my head, which made reading about the Japanese-American experience extra interesting.

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